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Update: Focus on Immigration Past and Present

Exhibit offers ‘bittersweet’ look at guest worker program between U.S. and Mexico

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January 22, 2014 | by Caitlin Tucker

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” will be on display at Northwestern University beginning Feb. 15 and will be the centerpiece of a series of events that will take place across campus related to Latin American immigration to the United States.     

The opening ceremony of the exhibit and a conversation with former bracero workers will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Dittmar Gallery, the location of “Bittersweet Harvest,” on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus.

Initiated in August 1942, the Bracero Program grew out of a series of agreements between the United States and Mexico that allowed tens of thousands of Mexicans to work as temporary contract laborers in the United States to fill labor deficiencies in agriculture and railroad work. By the time the program was canceled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded. The Bracero Program is considered “bittersweet” because of its history of both exploitation and opportunity.

Running through March 28, “Bittersweet Harvest” includes 15 freestanding, illustrated banners in a bilingual exhibition that combines recent scholarship, powerful photographs from the Smithsonian’s collection and audio excerpts by former bracero workers.

Related events on the Evanston campus will include conversations with former braceros currently living in the Chicago area, public lectures, a film series and dance performances.

Northwestern’s Latina and Latino Studies program chose to showcase “Bittersweet Harvest” to begin a conversation in Evanston and Chicago about the past and present of Latin American immigration to the United States.

“The 50th anniversary of the end of the Bracero Program seems like the perfect opportunity to accomplish this goal,” said Geraldo L. Cadava, assistant professor of history and Latina and Latino studies at Northwestern and organizer of the event.

The exhibit and related events offer context to the immigration debate that is playing out so prominently in the news today.  

“The debates about comprehensive immigration reform are some of the most important and divisive debates that citizens of the United States and Latin America engage in today,” Cadava continued. “Understanding past debates about the Bracero Program can help people approach conversations about immigration reform today.”

After its stay at the Dittmar Gallery, “Bittersweet Harvest” will be displayed at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., from April 2 to 27.

“The partnership between Northwestern and the Evanston Public Library will help Northwestern’s Latina and Latino Studies Program achieve one of its main goals: to engage the surrounding communities of Evanston and Chicago more deeply,” Cadava said. “All of these events are designed to encourage us to think in new ways about the work and lives of migrant laborers.”

The following Northwestern events are open to the public:

• The opening ceremony will include a performance by Mariachi Northwestern, welcoming remarks and snacks and refreshments at the Dittmar Gallery, 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20.

• A conversation with former bracero workers, moderated by Almita Miranda, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, will follow the opening ceremony at the Dittmar Gallery at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20.

• A film series about Latin American immigration to the United States and the Bracero Program in particular at the Dittmar Gallery, "Sleep Dealer," 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 6; "A Better Life," 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 7; and "Harvest of Shame," 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8.

• Original dance performances inspired by the Bracero Program at the Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern. With music by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, choreographer Joel Valentin-Martinez retells a "bittersweet" story of people caught in the whirlwind of the emergency farm and railroad program initiated by the United States and Mexico during World War II. Preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 13; opening at 8 p.m. Friday, March 14; 8 p.m. Saturday, March 15; and closing at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 16. To purchase tickets visit Brown Paper Tickets.

Visit the Latina and Latino Studies Program for more information. 

Topics: Campus Life